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When Arsenal and Fulham were within moments of merging into one club… full details in “Making the Arsenal”
By Tony Attwood
The AAA, in case you have missed them, is the Anti-Arsenal Arsenal, a group of people who claim to be Arsenal fans but whose commentaries are totally anti-Arsenal. Mostly they claim to have been supporters since the 1960s and find that this current team is the worst Arsenal team ever.
In fact most of their stuff is written by about a dozen people who have multiple email accounts and who write in to web sites about how awful Arsenal is, and then agree with each other.
But I have never seen them tackle Arsenal’s heritage and history – until a piece turned up this week on Bleacher Report.
Bleacher Report is a web site that proclaims itself to be “Open source sports network that caters to citizen journalism,” whatever that means.
It does articles on Arsenal sometimes – and loves lists. In fact lists is what it does. Lists like “Ranking Arsenal’s 10 Best Performances at the Emirates” and “7 Players Wenger Will Be Happy to Sell This Summer”.
It is all made up of course, and since professional journalism is mostly about made-up things, then there is no reason why citizen journalism shouldn’t be as well.
Normally I don’t read this stuff, but they did 12 reasons why Arsenal fans hate Tottenham, and I was inerested because I wrote an article in the matchday programme for Arsenal 5 Tottenham 2 on the origins of the antipathy between Arsenal and Tottenham. I just wondered if they had used the work of myself and my colleagues (Andy and Mark) in the Arsenal History Society who actually do the work. They hadn’t – which is fair enough, but in not doing so, they really made a balls up of it all.
As that article in the Uncovered series in the programme showed the antipathy between Arsenal and Tottenham has something, but not too much, to do with our proximity since there were problems at the Manor Ground even when Tottenham Reserves were in Plumstead.
But that is a minor error in their article compared to this one…
“Though it was over 93 years ago, a good deal of the animosity that fuels this rivalry stems from the dubious promotion of Arsenal over Tottenham to the First Division in 1919.
“The Gunners had finished fifth to Spurs’ third, and normally the latter would have been promoted. But, under somewhat dubious circumstances, the head of the FA recommended Arsenal be promoted, and Tottenham were defeated by a vote of 18 votes to eight.”
If ever there was a load of cock printed about a historic and indeed highly symbolic Arsenal event it was this. These supposed fans of Arsenal are taking a moment of which Arsenal can be proud and turning it into something we should be ashamed of!
In case you saw the Bleacher report, in case you were drawn in by this gibberish, or in case you would like to know, here are a few facts. We’ve done them here time and again, but clearly the message is getting through – at least in Bleacher-land.
Arsenal were promoted in 1919 to the first division upon the expansion of the division from 20 clubs to 22. Such expansions were decided upon by the chairmen of the league clubs who voted which clubs should be part of the enlarged league.
In 1919 however matters were complicated by the fact that the previous season was not one just finished, but one that ran 1914-15. That season had been completed, but it was the last season for four years because of the First World War. (Scottish football continued during the war, professional English football completed the season it had started by the time war was declared, but then stopped in April 1915.)
So back to the Bleacher Report. “The Gunners had finished fifth to Spurs’ third, and normally the latter would have been promoted.”
Arsenal finished 5th in the second division, true. But Tottenham didn’t finish third. They finished bottom – of the first division. There was nothing to say that a team finishing third in the second division (even if that is where Tottenham had ended up) would go up. From the moment automatic promotion and relegation was introduced in 1899 it was two up and two down.
In the build up to the decision as to which clubs would be in the enlarged post-war first division, it was taken as read that all the clubs save the bottom two in the 1914-15 season would naturally stay in the first division.
That left the bottom two of division 1 who would normally be relegated (Chelsea and Tottenham) hoping to stay up, and the clubs that had come first and second in the second division expecting to be promoted as normal, and the clubs below 1 and 2 in the 2nd division of 1915 who hoped they might get in instead of Chelsea and Tottenham.
The first “given” was that the top two from division 2 would be promoted. Which left the issue – were the other two places going to Chelsea and Tottenham, or to second division clubs.
But… there was an issue. As we have covered elsewhere, 1914/15 was besmirched with a major football match fixing scandal, and Liverpool and Manchester United were found guilty in an enquiry. Normally we might have expected them to be punished with demotion or being kicked out of the league totally, but by the time the enquiry was held in 1915 all eyes were on the western front, and nothing was done.
By 1919 it all seemed remote, and besides, the power base of the league was in the north – so Liverpool and Man U had a lot of friends.
However a campaign started as soon as people began to talk of the expansion of the league – to have Chelsea retained in division 1. Man U had ended on 30 points, Chelsea on 29 and Tottenham on 28. Tottenham had no reason to claim re-election but Chelsea did, because Man U should never have had 30 points – they fixed the match, and they should have gone down, not Chelsea.
Chelsea were given their place back in the first division without a vote. Meaning that they did not have to re-apply for a place in the extended league. But Tottenham did. There was now only one extra place left. Tottenham applied for it.
Derby had won the second division, and Preston who came second, were clearly up anyway. A variety of other clubs including Arsenal who came 5th and Hull who came 7th applied for the remaining place.
Club chairman as always considered a lot of things in deciding who would go up, and the position of the club in the league the previous season was not a priority. Such a process continued for years – for example in 1972 Barrow were not re-elected to the fourth division, although Stockport and Crewe below them were at the end of the previous season. Likewise Gateshead did not get re-elected in 1960 although Oldham and Hartlepools who finished below them in the league and they did.
And as it was in the 1960s and 1970s so it was in the early days of football. Where you finished in the league was a pointer, but by no means the only pointer. The quality of the ground, the history of the club in supporting the league (as opposed to the Southern League and other rival affairs), the level of home support, the level of away support, public sentiment, ease of access to the ground and so on – all these things counted as much as league position.
Because there was no league football until September 1919 the 1919 campaign for election was debated from the spring onwards. Arsenal’s case was argued from the earliest days, often in Athletic News, the premier weekly football magazine. Arsenal’s point was
a) they had single-handedly brought professional football to the south, despite major opposition.
b) they had been the only club in London and the south to join the Football League. As Tottenham and other clubs had gone for the Southern League, Arsenal had gone into the Football League. (Tottenham had later transferred to the Football League after ending up 7th in the Southern League and coming up that way – exactly as Arsenal gained promotion in 1919 – through election).
c) upon entering administration in 1910 Arsenal had solved their plight in the most honourable way – by paying off everyone. Unlike many administrations, Arsenal’s was one in which there were no losers. That gained many friends.
d) the big northern clubs of division 1 liked coming to London. The players rarely got to London so it was a day out, and the northern clubs liked London teams in the top division. Chelsea had been given a place in the league in 1905 even though the club did not exist at the time, simply to have more London clubs in the league. And Arsenal’s ground was the easiest to get to.
e) Arsenal had a large ground which by 1919 could hold 40,000, and with home and away gates being shared, the top teams wanted a share of the money from the big crowd.
f) Arsenal had a name in football, which Tottenham did not have. Tottenham along with other Southern League teams had reached the cup final from outside the league, and had actually won it once, but that was not the same as Arsenal’s name. Arsenal were the soldiers team, and Arsenal fans could be found all over the country. They had won nothing, but they were one of the most famous clubs in the land, because of their association with the military might of the Empire.
g) Arsenal more than any other club were the workers’ team. Although they had been taken over by Henry Norris (now, Lt Colonel Sir Henry Norris) they still had Jack Humble who had been with the club from 1886/7 as an active director, and the notion of this being a club by the workers for the workers continued.
So when Sir Henry went knocking on the doors of the other clubs who had a vote, he was knocking on open doors. The first division clubs liked Arsenal, and they wanted the club (who had spent just two years in the second division, drawing in all-time record crowds for that division) back in the first.
And so they were elected. All within the rules, all as normal, and indeed in exactly the way Tottenham were elected from the Southern League – through an election. If you do want to find a dodgy entry into the Football League, try Chelsea in 1905. But that’s a different story.